Alpha CEO Larry Wilson has been named Radio Ink‘s Radio Executive of The Year and will appear on the cover of the upcoming issue of Radio Ink magazine. Wilson dominated the past year in terms of the number of stations purchased and has quickly grown his company to the fourth-largest in the industry in terms of stations, behind iHeart, Cumulus and Townsquare. Upon the successful completion of all pending transactions, Alpha Media will own 252 radio stations in 54 markets. Two years ago, when Wilson was last on our cover, he had about 30 stations. The big question now is what’s next for Wilson and Alpha? Does he try to go public or wait and operate for awhile until the industry stabilizes? Here’s an excerpt from our upcoming cover story interview.
RI: What are your thoughts on taking Alpha public compared to when you did it with Citadel?
Wilson: Unlike most of the things that are written about me, I never made a lock decision that I’m going public. All I said was that I wanted to get to critical mass, if the market opens to go public, I want to go public. But I wouldn’t go public in this environment for anything. You’ve got the two major players limping. Although, I think iHeart is doing some really good stuff. Bob Pittman is extremely smart. I think they are doing a lot of smart things. I really like what they’re doing on the events side. I’m more optimistic about them than most people. I think with those guys at the helm, and I may be wrong, but I think given time, and they’ve got plenty of time with their backers, they’ve got marvelous properties. I know just about all of the properties they’ve got. Lowry Mays, a really good friend and mentor, assembled all of those properties. They are world class. I patterned everything I did at Citadel after what Lowry was doing, I was trying to emulate him. I think iHeart’s going to be a good player for a long time. I just don’t know much about Cumulus. I know those properties, especially the Citadel ones, they’re great properties.
They just need some tender loving care. The big markets, I don’t know so well. Some of the destruction that’s been done in big markets is going to be hard to bring back, like KGO in San Francisco. And they’re the ones hurting the worst, the big ones. It’s encouraging the existing owners are stepping up and buying more stock, albeit it is in pennies, but they’ve still got to believe that it’s good properties. They’ve got to be fixed. Everybody says they just need to get on to fixing them.
RI: So, you wouldn’t be unhappy just being an operator and not being public with the way things are right now?
Wilson: Absolutely not. We are at a reasonable debt load and this is a good cash-generating business. There’s nothing wrong with sitting and operating. I just get frustrated by some of your counterparts, the stuff they’re writing about my IPO, “Hopes have been thwarted.” I mean, that’s ridiculous. I’m so pleased with where we are. We have tremendous diversification across the states. I think that’s important because some states are healthier than others. If you have one limping, you have one that’s booming. So, that’s healthy. I think we’ve got great diversification in market size. We’ve got some medium markets and small markets. But gosh, it’s amazing how much money some of those make. They are the community. For example, Mason City, Iowa, there’s huge cash-flow there, and they’re so involved in the community, the surrounding areas and the farming communities. It’s the way radio is supposed to be. I love having a number of those unrated smaller markets where they really have great radio stations. They’re live and local, they live it every day and it shows in the numbers. I feel good about the platform, but it wasn’t built solely to say “Go IPO,” and then, “Oh my god, there’s not a window.” I wouldn’t go public in this climate with Cumulus on their back and iHeart having the debt load they have. Look at all the radio stocks. None of them are sizzling. That’s when you want to go public. I think that time may come again. It’s still a great business. That’s what everybody forgets. It’s a great business. It gets results.
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